2011 is transferred

Two weeks ago today, I posted about the changes at Photobucket and how they could affect my blogs (including this one).

This morning, I finished transferring all images for posts made in 2011 to my own server. Given that I started the blog on August 29, 2011, that represents less than a half-year of blogging – and just 104 posts out of more than 1,200. So there’s still more to do – a lot more.

But it’s a start, and I now have a procedure that’s working for me.

Just thought everyone would like to know that at this rate, there should be no service interruption at Port Rowan in 1:64.

Shooting a cover

The editor of a hobby magazine emailed yesterday to ask for a vertical-format photo to use as a potential cover for a feature I wrote. I spent the next several hours composing and shooting 13 potential covers.

Shooting a cover.
(Lights, camera, cover? We’ll see if this composition makes the cut…)

I’m pretty excited: If my photo is used, it’ll be the first cover story related to my current layout in a mainstream monthly print publication. (My previous, Maine On2 layout made the cover of RMC several times.)

Cover shots are tricky. First, the vertical format is really challenging for almost all layout photography. We normally view our models (and our layouts) from the side. But the vertical format for a cover means it makes more sense to shoot along the layout instead of across it.

As anyone who has done layout tour photography will know, that creates all sorts of challenges. For example, Even if you’re just focussing on a couple of models in the foreground – just a few feet in front of the camera – you may have an expanse of sky that’s going to need lighting. In the case of the above photo, I had to light up about 15 feet of backdrop in Port Rowan, plus the background at the west end of St. Williams – about 25 feet away from the lens.

Another issue is the nature of trains themselves. Our model trains are low (extending just a few inches above the rails) but long (running for several feet). So shooting a train side-on is impossible when taking a vertical format photograph. Even shooting even a single piece of equipment side-on is tricky. For a vertical photo, even if the model fills the frame side-to-side, there’s going to be a ton of boring sky above it.

This is another reason to build realistically tall trees. They help add interest to the photo. It helps, too, that on a cover, much of the top of any photo will be covered by the magazine’s name/logo. There will also be several call-outs on the cover – “Gluing things to other things: Page 48” and so on – that help hide less desirable elements in the background of a photo. In my case, I have a sharp vertical line where the backdrop curves away from Port Rowan to enter the Lynn Valley, but cloning some trees in PhotoShop, combined with the logo and call-outs, will make that disappear from the viewer’s perception.

The logo, the call-outs, and other items like the location of mailing labels and UPC codes are all things one needs to think about while composing a cover. And that’s before any considerations about scene composition and engagement with the casual viewer. A cover needs to grab attention on the rack – whether it’s in a hobby-friendly location like the local model train emporium, or in an agnostic location like a book shop or grocery store, where it’s competing not only with other model railroading publications, but also all those other magazines vying for our money.

I know my layout photographs well, because I’ve found many interesting places to shoot images on it (which I’ve shared on this blog). But I’ve rarely done vertical format photos and I was surprised at how difficult it was to find an interesting location to shoot when the camera was rotated 90 degrees.

We’ll see how well I did if/when my shot is used on the cover.

Beyond that, I will wait until the article comes out before I reveal what it’s about and what magazine it’s in. At that time, I’ll also share some of the rejected cover shots.

Stay tuned…

Updating links, and expanding the directory

I’m in the process of reviewing my entire blog (Thanks for that, Photobucket!) and I’m finding some outdated/broken links.

Have you seen this link?

Realizing that fixing every link on the blog will be onerous, I’m considering simply dropping links for those sites I list fairly frequently. I’ve reviewed my “Links” directory on the right hand side of the home page, and have updated and re-organized those so they’ll be easier to use. I’ll be adding more links as I encounter them while reviewing my blog.

So, if you find a broken link in a post – or if you find a manufacturer listed without a link – the first place you should check is the “links” list. You might find a working link there. (If not, there’s always Google…)

If you still find a broken link, let me know using the “comments” section of this post. (As I fix them, I’ll delete your comment so I can keep track of those I still need to address.)

Also, I’m gradually adding a star (*) in posts next to anything that has a link in my Links directory. And I’m adding a note to the bottom of link-heavy posts reminding readers that the up-to-date links can be found in that directory. Something like this:

(*Check the “Links” section on this blog’s home page for the most up-to-date links)

In the future, if a link breaks, the first place I’ll fix it is in the directory – not necessarily in all of the posts.

What the Photobucket?

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(Read about the debacle on Yahoo! Finance, by clicking on the meter above)

“What the Photobucket?” – that’s an expletive being used by millions of people around the world right now.

I have been a Photobucket customer since September 2001, and have used it since I launched this blog to store and manage all the images I use here. This is called “Third Party Hosting” – and it could spell the end of this blog.

Here’s why:

On July 6th, Photobucket eliminated 3rd Party Hosting for all of its non-paying users, and made 3rd Party Hosting an exclusive feature of its top-tier, commercial subscription plan. Non-paying customers were cut off on July 6th. All of their links broke. The photos are still there – but they can’t be embedded and the links have broken that allowed already-embedded images to display elsewhere.

The company announced the changes in a news release on its blog. Another blog posting provides further information.

I happen to be a paying user. I pay Photobucket $30 per year for extra storage – which is the only reason you’re still seeing the photos on my blog. All paying customers, including yours truly, have received a grace period – until December 2018. Basically, I have a year and a half to decide whether to subscribe to the top-tier commercial plan – the Plus 500 – or to move all of my photos to another picture service (or my own servers) and edit all of the links in my blog’s coding.

The Plus 500 plan costs US$400 per year. I can’t justify US$400 per year for a blog that generates no revenue. I already pay a fair bit to my ISP each year to host the web site (The Model Railway Show), which includes the hosting service for this and other blogs I write.

Perhaps Photobucket will realize that its customers who make no money off their photos are willing to pay something, but can’t justify US$400 per year. Perhaps Photobucket will adjust its rates for 3rd Party Hosting.

But if they don’t, my alternative is to move the images – and edit all the links in my blogs. That’s problematic, too:

As of this writing, I have 3,029 images stored on Photobucket – including 2,222 images directly related to “Port Rowan in 1:64”. In many cases, I have used the same image several times on the blog – for example, as the link from a new post to an older one. (“Click on the image to read more…”) So, moving the images to another service and editing all of the links will be a huge undertaking.

I’m not sure I have the energy to do that. It’s a task that would be measured in weeks, if not months. I have more than 1,200 posts on this blog – if I update three posts per day, on average, I’ll finish migrating the blog over from Photobucket before the plug is pulled on 3rd Party Hosting.

Incidentally, I did a test of what it would take to migrate the blog, and I was able to do 25 posts over the course of 3-4 hours. So, it’s not completely out of reach – but it’ll be a lot of work. I have more than 1,200 posts on the blog, and counting. Then I have two other (albeit smaller) blogs to migrate. As a side benefit, if I do this I can clean up some of the older posts – for example, by fixing broken links. We’ll see…

While the manner in which Photobucket handled this change is pretty cruddy, I must admit I sympathize with the company’s plight. It’s a for-profit enterprise, and never pretended to be anything else. In my professional life, I expect my clients to pay for my services – so it would be hypocritical of me to expect Photobucket to provide its services for free. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been a paying customer for so many years.

Those in charge at Photobucket thought they had a workable business model, through a combination of ads associated with each gallery and modest subscription fees. Obviously, it doesn’t work: ad-blocking software and 3rd Party Hosting links have killed the revenue stream from advertising. The company notes in its news release that 75% of its costs arise from non-paying users employing 3rd Party Linking. So, the company had to do something.

Unfortunately, the manner in which they’ve executed these changes has angered a whole lot of people on the web. Many feel that Photobucket is trying to extort them – is somehow holding their photos hostage, unless they pay US$400/year:

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(Click on the image to read more on “The Register”)

As a result, I predict that most of those non-paying users will flee Photobucket for the next “free” service. They’ll abandon most of their photos, because they’re not really of value anyway: in the case of amateurs, the photographer has already shared the image and moved on. In the case of professionals – well, they rolled the dice on a free service. You get what you paid for.

Still, an exodus will me that Photobucket will become the service that stores more than 15 billion images that nobody looks at anymore.

The real question is, do I have until December 2018 to decide what to do? Or will the exodus force Photobucket into the Internet’s dustbin before then?

Enjoy the blog while you can…

(Since this is not a post related directly to Port Rowan in 1:64, I have disabled the comments feature. If you feel compelled to comment, there’s a very active thread on the subject on the Model Railroad Hobbyist forum. Personally, I’d rather not get into a discussion about either the issue, or potential solutions: I’ll do my research and figure it out…)

Five years of blogging

Five years ago today, I started this blog. Wow – five years.

While I’d like to thank everybody who reads regularly, I’d especially like to thank those who have been following from the very beginning, and those who have been sharing my blog with others – through adding a link to their own blog, by referring to my blog when posting to newsgroups, and so on.

I’m still enjoying writing this blog – and would do so even if I had no readers. But it’s nice to know others are getting something from my work, too.

Cheers!

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Tips for blogging about our hobby

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On Saturday night, I was honoured to be the guest speaker at the banquet for Algonquin Turn 2016, the annual convention for members of the Niagara Frontier Region of the NMRA.

I’ve shared more on that in another post, but one thing I spoke about was how, for me, this blog has become a powerful modelling tool.

Despite the sentiment in the cartoon at the top of this post, I consider this blog to be as important to my Port Rowan layout as the ties and rail and I will continue to “bark” on it. Here’s why:

I started my blog in August, 2011. I had never before blogged and I had no idea what to expect. As of right now…

– I have made 1,126 posts (including this one).

– The blog has generated 5,856 comments. Of those, 1,950 are mine as I respond to the 3,906 comments from my readers (and thanks for those!)

– The blog has generated more than 505,000 page views. (It’s actually a bit more than that, because I did not track stats for the first year of blogging. I simply didn’t know I could.)

In addition to making new friends online, the value of this blog has been in its ability to generate information that helps me become a better railway modeller. For example:

– Readers have offered information about the prototype (CNR Simcoe Sub) and the area (St. Williams and Port Rowan) that I model.

– Readers have shared information about traffic sources and commodities to enhance the freight, LCL and express operations on my layout.

– Those readers who are also professional railroaders have shared information about prototype practices that have improved my operating sessions.

– Readers who know more about S scale (because I’m still relatively new to working in 1:64) have given me leads everything from small detail parts to locomotives, and from manufacturers to suppliers (whether they are distributors, retailers or individuals).

Interestingly, in a number of cases, information came my way that I did not even know I “needed”. For example, I’ve had many people become readers who are not railway modellers: They’re historians, or residents of one of the communities I model, or have another interest that overlaps something I’m doing on the layout, such as installing the working telegraphy system.

In the past, I might have had to do extensive research, including trips to archives, to find much of this information. Today, thanks to this blog, much of it has come my way – simply because I shared.

Finally, another important role for this blog is to remind me how I did something. For example, I often return to the blog to look up detail parts I used on a specific type of freight car so I can order more for another model.

In my talk on Saturday night, I encouraged everyone in the room to start a blog – and offered some tips, based on my experience, for getting started. For those who are interested, here are my thoughts on blogging in no particular order:

– Make regular postings: I suggest one per week on average (and I know that I’ve been remiss at that since the home renovation and Roy the Puppy (see below) took over my life, but I hope to rectify that going forward). They don’t have to be “War and Peace” – they can be as brief as a photo and a caption. But to generate the traffic that will start paying off in terms of information gathering, regular postings are a must.

– Write about what you’ve done – not what about your thinking of doing. Unless, of course, you want every expert on the Internet to tell you what to do.

– Give newcomers a place to find their feet. Remember that readers may land on your blog at any post – rarely the first one. On this blog, I’ve included a “First Time Here?” page, into which I’ve gathered some basic information and links to key posts that describe what I’m doing in more detail. I’ve also included lots of photos of the layout on this page, so that people can see what I’m doing and assess whether they want to read more. (Not everybody will, and that’s cool!)

– I’ve also included an “About the Author” page, so people can find out who I am. It’s always more comfortable to have a conversation with somebody if you know who they are, I find. I’ve also included information about how to contact me on this page.

– Make it easy for interested readers to follow you. This blog includes the “Follow this Blog” page to describe the options. And I post the occasional reminder to my blog that new readers should check it out. (This post counts, so if you’re new to my blog – Welcome! Please have a look at how you can follow along.)

– Back up your blog. I didn’t, at first – I didn’t know I could. And then I lost the entire thing. Fortunately, a reader was able to access the XML file (the programming language that creates the blog) for my posts on his own computer and share it with me, so I was able to re-post all of the posts. But I lost many of the early comments. Blogs reside online, and the engine that drive them – such as WordPress – have an export tool that allows you save your blog to your local computer drive. Use it.

– A promising blog that hasn’t been updated in months is a sad thing to find on the Internet. I sometimes wonder if the blogger has unexpectedly passed away. So if you started a blog that you don’t intend to maintain and you read this, do your readers a favour and write a final post saying that you’ve decided to no longer maintain the blog because you’re doing other things. (The reasons are none of our businesses, but we like to know that you’re still alive.)

If you have not yet started a blog, I hope that this post will encourage you to consider doing so. I use WordPress and recommend it – I like the user interface and I think the resulting blogs look elegant. But there are other engines – such as Blogger – that may suit you better. I encourage you to look at each and then if you’re interested, register a name (it’s free to do so) and start sharing!

Since I started this post with a dog cartoon, I thought I’d bookend it with a dog photo. Here’s one of Roy, taken this morning:

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StealRat Infection

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Tonight, my outgoing emails started bouncing back. Spamhaus is blocking things, saying that my ISP’s servers have something called the StealRat Infection. I can receive email, but not reply.

I will call them in the morning to figure out what to do next.

But I wanted to let everyone know that if you’ve emailed me, I’m not ignoring you. I’ll respond when I’m able.

Updated “First Time Here?” page

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If you’ve only recently found my blog, then welcome aboard!

If you haven’t yet seen it, I encourage you to start with the “First Time Here?” page. It includes some links to posts in this blog that will help you understand what I’m doing, and why.

And if you haven’t looked at it in a while, you might want to revisit the page, as I’ve updated it by collecting together some of my favourite photos into a tour of the layout.

Enjoy!

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Who is this, really?

I’m back – sort of:

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After a week and a half with no home office, I spent the morning restoring a sense of normalcy to command central. It looks better than it ever has. I know friends are going to look at the above photo and experience a common reaction – which can be summed up by the following two questions:

1 – Who is this?
2 – What have you done with Trevor?

It’ll be a while before I add more posts to the blog, as I have 11 days of deferred work to address. But I did get a couple of small things done, hobby-wise, during my period of enforced idleness – so I’ll have something to share soon.

Cheers!

Enforced idleness

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I wish it involved a beach, but no…

This weekend, I’m clearing my home office so the floors can be refinished and walls painted. I should be out of the office for a week – maybe more, as there’s a fair bit of prep to do, too.

As a consequence, my computer and home Internet access will also be out of commission, so I’ll be on a vacation of sorts.

While I will still read any comments that come into the blog via my smart phone – and may be able to provide short answers through same – I won’t be making new posts until my office has been restored and I may not be responding to all comments (because I’m not a fan of one-finger typing).

Have a good one, everyone – see you later!